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Braden River Elementary to welcome new principal

Mary Oliva is ready to be a hands-on principal, engaging in all that Braden River Elementary has to offer.

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Whether it’s helping Braden River Elementary School students make s’mores on Camping Day or putting plants in the school’s garden, Mary Oliva has plenty of ways to incorporate her passions into her new role as school principal. 

Oliva, who is replacing Joshua Bennett as he moves to being the director of exceptional student education for the School District of Manatee County, loves cooking and gardening. 

Mary Oliva
Courtesy image

She’ll be looking for any opportunity to become involved in the project-based learning model at Braden River Elementary, focused on giving students chances to work collaboratively and to develop their communication skills.

“If students are exposed and given opportunities so young, it’s only going to continue to help them both academically and socially to be a good community member and in giving back to their community as well,” Oliva said. 

Many elementary students are asked what they want to be when they grow up.

For Oliva, whose previous job was as the assistant principal at Ballard Elementary School, the dream job is being a principal. Next school year will be her first year serving as a principal.

“I love to be at the school on a daily basis so I can be around students and teachers,” she said. “I have some district experience and all of that experience definitely prepared me to come back into a school. At this point in my life and in my career, I want to be school based, and I love being an administrator.”

Oliva said she loves seeing students grow academically and socially. Building relationships with students, spending time with them in the classroom and helping them build the foundation of their education are highlights of her job. 

On the last day of school at Ballard Elementary May 24, Oliva was looking at some of the cards the students gave her. One third grader wrote “New kids will love you” while another third grader wrote “You’re a successful girl, person and human.” Reading those cards, and other similar moments, remind her of how thoughtful and kind students can be.

Oliva said she wants to make elementary school memorable for her students just as it was for her when she was growing up.

She remembered her fourth grade year being her favorite. She recalled her teacher being able to balance hard work with having fun. 

Now she wants to do the same as principal, and she already has some experience. She’s participated in academic parties to celebrate students meeting their goals. 

Oliva recalled a few years ago at Ballard Elementary standing behind a wood board and putting her face into a cut out hole in the board. She watched as the students lined up eager to throw water balloons at her. She left the academic celebration soaking wet. 

“It’s important for the administrators to attend as many of those as possible and interact with the kids and be a part of what they’re doing, whether it’s a game or any sort of event,” Oliva said. “I look forward to participating in those, being visible and having fun with the kids. Although we work hard, we also need to celebrate those successes as well.”

A unique aspect of Braden River Elementary School is its dual language program. The school implemented the program in the 2021-2022 school year and will be adding third grade to the program next school year. 

Olivia said she’ll use the Spanish skills she learned in middle school, high school and college to interact with students in the dual language program in Spanish. She said she’ll be learning alongside them as she develops her Spanish speaking skills. 

Much like with her own daughters, 10-year-old Anabel and 12-year-old Amy, Oliva said she wants to support students as they learn about and pursue different passions. 

Oliva followed her own passion when she pursued a career in education. She had other family members who were educators and always loved school as a child. But when she found herself too far along in college, pursuing a degree in business administration, she decided to stay the course as she knew that degree would be beneficial in an educational setting. 

After graduating and wondering what she should do next, she said her passion for being a lifelong learner led to earn her masters in elementary education from the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. 

Now she continues to be a lifelong learner. Oliva said she’s ready to learn and engage in the family atmosphere at Braden River Elementary. 

“I can’t wait to get started, be a part of it and continue that culture of excellence and community they have,” Oliva said.



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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